The classroom of the future may not have windows or doors.

The best way to get kids learning is to make sure they’re having fun, and a great place to have fun is the great outdoors. Not only does this provide a change of scenery from classroom and online learning, but it also lets kids learn without even realizing it.

When the pandemic first hit, many schools took classes outdoors for as long as the weather would permit. No doubt once the weather warms up again and pandemic related restrictions are lifted, schools will revert to it once more. But now that we are in the heart of the Great Canadian Winter and many kids will be attending school virtually, the onus will be on parents to get kids to disconnect from technology and learn a little something from nature.

For anyone doubting the effectiveness of outdoor learning, consider how Outward Bound has used hiking, paddling and camping to teach kids to problem solve and negotiate risk, while building coping skills and resilience along the way.  David Suzuki Foundation has taught kids about the environment and sustainable actions for years, turning kids into responsible global citizens. So, there’s something definitely to be said for learning outside. After all, with benefits that include reducing stress and boredom while boosting concentration, physical fitness, energy, creativity and curiosity and problem- solving abilities, the outdoor classroom offers some pretty compelling pluses.

While getting older kids outside to learn is going to be a little trickier that convincing younger ones to go out, with a little creative thinking, it is possible. Here are some ideas to get you started:

For pre-schoolers to primary schoolers

Go on a scavenger hunt. Make a list of items to find. Sound out list words together to improve reading skills.  Look for a feather, a seed, something rough, 2 different types of leaves, a beautiful rock, a pinecone, something smooth.

Set off on an alphabet quest. Practice letter recognition by printing out a page with the alphabet on it and find things starting with each letter. Cross them off as you find them.

Leaf activities. Collect different leaves on a walk outside. Look online to identify what you’ve found. Make butterfly crafts. Cut a large leaf into pieces and puzzle it back to together. Stimulates creativity, logic and curiosity!

Plant a garden. Bring science class to your backyard. Clear a patch and plant seeds, getting some tips from here. Have your child water, weed and harvest the fruits (or veggies!) of their labour.

For tweens to teens

Visit a local farm. Learn where food comes from. Pick your own produce and then can or cook something together.

Go for a walk. Get your endorphins in gear. Have your child map out the route you’ll take and make note of any historic or nature-related learning opportunities along the way.

Gaze up at the stars. If the planetarium is off limits, head to your terrace or backyard and gaze at the stars to see how many you can identify. Consult a star map to see how many you got right.

Bird watch. Check out Birds Canada to learn about the birds in your region and then head outdoors with binoculars to see how many you can spot. Find out what they eat and build a bird feeder!

For high schoolers

Create a butterflyway. David Suzuki’s starter guide provides step-by-step instructions, along with all of the benefits of building one. Not only is this nifty little science lesson, but it’s also an initiative that would look good on a college application if done on a large enough scale.

Take an education walk. ImagineEd has all kinds of good ideas on how to weave biology, english and even business lessons into a walk – many of which require the phone that your teen has undoubtedly brought along.

Take a hike (and clean up along the way.) Nothing sends a quicker message about the importance of sustainability than helping clear garbage from parkland or a creek. Google nearby watershed projects to get involved in; it’s a great add-on to a college application.

Go Geocaching.  The world’s largest treasure hunt is an easy way to sharpen your teen’s logic and reasoning skills. Depending on the cache, you may even get a history lesson too! Just download the geocache app onto your smartphone, top off your data plan and head outdoors to have fun.

Remember, education isn’t just about things learned within the four walls of the classroom; the classrooms of the future will be extending well beyond bricks and mortar. Helping children think beyond the “walls” by stimulating creative learning and teaching empathy, problem solving and sharpening observational skills now will only serve them well down the road.

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